Director: Pierre B. Reinhard
Retromedia/Image Entertainment

An admittedly mixed bag when it comes to quality, French horror films are an eclectic, eccentric bunch. At worst they’re incomprehensible, poorly produced, and decidedly dull, featuring guys in pancake makeup sprouting badly dubbed dialogue (although, hey, that’s kind of fun too, isn‘t it?). Slightly better are the schlock-shocks that comprise the ‘so good they’re bad’ pantheon (ala ZOMBIE LAKE). At its best, continental horror boasts raw energy and unique perspective. In this category falls some of the meatier flicks of Jess Franco (yes, I know he’s Spanish but he’s done some wonderful work with the French). The same is particularly true when considering the lyrical splatter operas of Jean Rollin, whose tragic studies of decay are as beautifully filmed as they are challenging in theme. Something of the highly charged eroticism, fatalistic imagery, and dream-like story structure of the later is duplicated in Retromedia’s REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD GIRLS, a fetishistic ode to blood, breasts, and brutality.

A gruesome gift to both splatter fans and those who appreciate the morose atmosphere of the older European Gothics, REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD GIRLS surrounds a primal, simplistic tale of crime, punishment, and zombies with fatalistic elegance. Telling a structurally uneven -- if enthusiastic -- story of sex and sadism with gusto, REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD GIRLS is an oft-neglected piece of gut-gobbling whose wormy whores are undeniably offensive. Wallowing in viscera even while treating more significant themes of political corruption, bribery, and toxicity, this movie succeeds as powerhouse exploitation feature if not in tact. Subtlety has no place in this movie, which admits within its brash, broad approach and lingering attention to violence that its goal is to entertain, not moralize. It achieves this by being honest, content to weave its dream of terror with ferocious energy and a penchant for the gross-out.

In a cultural environment of political palm-greasing, economic conspiracy, and political intrigue, the common people suffer the result of cheapened down, unsafe business practices as milk poisoned by waste falls on the graves of three recently deceased attractive young ladies. Now just what do you think happens? Yup, here there be zombies, friend, and they’re as fun to gawk at as you might think. Compensating for ludicrous makeup with feverish intensity and the cheap yet effective naturalism that seem to grace practically all European zombie films, lending their undead denizens a personality lacking in U.S. movies, these ghoulish gals are barely out of the ground before they get down to business. Stalking the management of the local dairy farm that, it seems, caused their demise (although saboteurs, in fact, were responsible), the frenzied nature of the attacks, the rural ghostliness of the setting, and the sparse if effective production values makes this somewhat sloppy stew of disparate elements work.

The real star of the show is the combination of grand gothic atmosphere and contemporary cynicism, with traces of Hammer Studios thrown in for good measure. A hybrid of French genre elements, DEAD GIRLS is anything but dull, owing something of its visual imagery to both the French potboiler and the decayed wonder of Rollin’s operas. While fans will quickly spot the parallels between this and Rollin’s THE LIVING DEAD GIRL, director Reinhard establishes his own identity -- one expressed by trashing cultural taboos. The picture revels in such questionable delights as high-heel eye gouging, attacks on male genitalia, and swords thrust up vaginas (ouch!). Not for the squeamish or advocates of suggestive horror, this exploitative flesh-fest is feisty… and damn proud of it.

Never before available on home video in The States, its presented here in a 1.66:1 letterboxed non-anamorphic transfer. The picture quality is very watchable if not perfect, with occasional speckling and grain disturbing the picture, with stable if not overly vivid colors. This isn’t as serious a problem as it may sound, for it doesn’t distract from the action, and one expects a certain amount of imperfections with a film of this rarity. The English-dubbed audio is serviceable, with no noticeable defects.

Extras are bare if intriguing in this uncut edition, including a full screen trailer that whets the appetite for the carnage to come, a mention of Retromedia’s website (not really an extra, but worth visiting) and, of most interest, an alternate ending which combines conspiracy with a wickedly cruel punishment. (William P. Simmons)